13 MARCH 1897, Page 17


THE RECOLLECTIONS OF ALEXIS DE TOCQUE- VILLE.* THE period of 1848 is just now the slack water of history. It is not near enough to us to be part of the daily recollections of middle-aged men, not far enough off to be generally studied in memoirs and documents. Hence by most men the days of February and June are neglected and but little understood. Yet in reality no events were ever more picturesque, more interesting more exciting, than those which took place in Paris in 1848. Every form of interest, political, social, and even military, is concentrated in them. It was then that for the first time the world saw an apparently powerful Monarchy tumble to the ground at a touch, and merely from its essential instability. No one seriously or deliberately intended to destroy it, no able or vigorous bands were stretched out to effect its ruin. A mere accident might at the last moment have saved

• The Recollections 111 Alexis de Tocqueeille. Edited by the Comte de Tocque. Tile, and now first translated into hngli.h by Alexander Lixecra de Mattos. With a Portrait. London: IL Henry and Co.

it. Indeed, it wanted but some one with a loud voice to shout an order, and there would have been no Revolution. It is true that the Monarchy of Louis Philippe was balanced on, not built into rock ; but though a touch from one side set it swaying a touch on the other would have steadied it again.

That correcting touch, however, was not applied, and down, and in an instant it fell in hopeless ruin. That fact is as in- teresting as it is anomalous. Quite as remarkable are the social phenomena of 1848. Though modern collectivists may declare that the failure of the public works and of the public workshops is nothing to them, and must not be adduced as a proof that their theories are impracticable, the world at large rightly or wrongly judges otherwise. It finds in the history of Paris during the period of 1848 strong grounds for

dreading a vast extension of public employment. The military aspects of the Revolution are not less extraordinary. Never before or since has there been so long a period of heavy fighting

in the streets of a great city. Ordinary urban insurrections have seldom lasted for more than twenty-four hours but here for more than a week two armed forces faced each other and fought day by day with the utmost ferocity. It was not the case of a great riot being put down, but of a campaign conducted between the houses. The men of the Revolution were not, perhaps, great men, but they were striking and picturesque in a high degree. Lamartine, Louis Blanc, and Cavaignac were each in their own way memorable figures. Rhetoric, fanaticism, and hard pounding,—these were all elements in the crisis of June, 1848.

Into the very centre of these memorable events we are led by

M. de Tocqueville in the fascinating book of personal reminiscences which forms the subject of this review. A

more delightful and stimulating guide it is impossible to imagine. He takes us by the hand, introduces us behind the scenes of the great political theatre, and shows us the principal actors as they appeared to a cool and courageous man of fine intellect, and, what is more important, to a man able to express his thoughts with clearness and truthfulness as well as with point and epigram. M. de Tocqueville had probably too great a scorn of fools and knaves, and too deep a sense of the irony of events, to make him a useful politician, but these qualities render his historical criticisms exceedingly delightful.

We must add, too, that his recollections were written down very shortly after the events that they describe. Thus we have every combination required to make a striking and delightful piece of first-hand history. The writer played a considerable part in the events he describes. He recorded his recollections before they had grown dim. The events themselves were eminently picturesque, and the writer had the gift of style and phrase in a most remarkable degree. Having said this, we need hardly add that the volume before us is a most attractive piece of work.

But its very charm makes it a most difficult book to review, We have marked enough passages which call imperatively for quotation to fill a whole issue of the Spectator. Let no one, then, imagine that our quotations exhaust the " plums " of

the book. We cannot do better than begin with the following; striking picture of Louis Philippe :—

" After treating the question which had brought me, I was about to retire, when the King detained me, took a chair,. motioned me to another, and said, affably : Since you are here, Monsieur de Tocqueville, let us talk ; I want to hear you talk a little about America.' I knew him well enough to know that this meant : I shall talk about America myself. And he did actually talk of it at great length and very searchingly : it was not possible for me, nor did I desire, to get in a word, for he really interested me. He described places as though he saw them before him ; he recalled the distinguished men whom he bad met forty years ago as though he had seen them the day before; he men- tioned their names in full, Christian name and surname, gave their ages at the time, related their histories, their pedigrees, their posterity, with marvellous exactness and with infinite, though in no way tedious, detail. From America he returned, without taking breath, to Europe, talked of all our foreign and domestic affairs with incredible unconstraint (for I had no title to his confidence), spoke very badly of the Emperor of Russia, whom he called Monsieur Nicolas,' casually alluded to Lord/ Palmerston as a rogue, and ended by holding forth at length on the Spanish marriages, which had just taken place, and the annoy- ances to which they subjected him on the side of England. ' The Queen is very angry with me; he said, ' and displays great irrita-' tion ; but, after all,' he added, 'all this outcry won't keep me from driving my own care [mener mon fiacre]. Although this phrase dated back to the Old Order, I felt inclined to doubt whether Louis XIV. ever made use of it on accepting, the Spanish Succes-: sion. I believe, moreover, that Louis-Philippe was mistaken, and, to borrow his own language, that the Spanish marriage helped not a little to upset his cart. After three-quarters of an hour, the King rose, thanked we for the pleasure my conversation had given him (I had not spoken four words), and dismissed me, feeling evidently as delighted as one generally is with a man before whom one thinks one has spoken well. This was my last audience of the King."

As a rule, M. de Tocqueville describes events rather than indulges in any analysis of his own or other people's motives. There is, however, one exception,—a passage in which he analyses his own character as a statesman, and describes his own real and inner feelings at the fall of the Constitutional Monarchy. In theory, of course, he deplored the event. Yet he was too honest not to admit that at the back of his mind he felt a sense of pleasure and relief that the ignoble regime had fallen Let me say, then, that when I came to search carefully into the depths of my own heart, I discovered, with some surprise, a certain sense of relief, a sort of gladness mingled with all the

griefs and fears to which the Revolution had given rise. I suffered from this terrible event for my country, but clearly not for myself ; on the contrary, I seemed to breathe more freely

than before the catastrophe. I had always felt myself stifled in the atmosphere of the parliamentary world which had just been destroyed : I had found it full of disappointments, both where others and where I myself was concerned ; and to commence with the latter, I was not long in discovering that I did not possess the necessary qualifications to play the brilliant rile that I had imagined : both my qualities and my defects were impediments. I had not the virtues necessary to command respect, and I was too upright to stoop to all the petty practices which were at that time essential to a speedy success. And observe that this uprightness was irremediable; for it forms so integral a part both of my temperament and my principles, that without it I am never able to turn myself to any account. Whenever I have, by ill-luck, been obliged to speak in defence of a bad cause, or to assist in bad measures, I have immediately found myself de- prived of all talent and all ardour; and I confess that nothing has consoled me more at the want of success with which my up- rightness has often met, than the certainty I have always been in that I could never have made more than a very clumsy and mediocre rogue. I also ended by perceiving that I was absolutely lacking in the art of grouping and leading a large number of men. I have always been incapable of dexterity, except in trite-a-tite, and embarrassed and dumb in the presence of a crowd ; I do not mean to say that at a given moment I am unable to say and do what will please it, but that is not enough; those great occasions are very rare in parliamentary warfare. The trick of the trade, in a party leader, is to be able to mix continually with his followers and even his adversaries, to show himself, to move about daily, to play continually now to the boxes, now to the gallery, so as to reach the level of every intelligence, to discuss and argue without end, to say the same things a thousand times in different ways, and to be impassioned eternally in the face of the same objects. These are all things of which I am quite in- capable. I find it troublesome to discuss matters which interest ens little, and painful to discuss those in which I am keenly con- cerned. Truth is for me so rare and precious a thing that, once found, I do not like to risk it on the hazard of a debate ; it is a light which I fear to extinguish by waving it to and fro. And as to consorting with men, I could not do so in any habitual and general fashion, because I never recognise more than a very few. Unless a person strikes me by something out of the common in his intellect or opinions, I, so to speak, do not see him I have always taken it for granted that mediocrities, as well as men of merit, had a nose, a mouth, eyes ; but I have never, in their case, been able to fix the particular shape of these features in my memory. I am constantly inquiring the name of strangers whom I see every day, and as constantly forgetting them; and yet, I do not despise them, only I consort but little with them, treating them as constant quantities. I honour them, for the world is made up of them ' • but they weary me profoundly. What com- pleted my disgust was the mediocrity and monotony of the par- liamentary events of that period, as well as the triviality of the passions and the vulgar perversity of the men who pretended to cause or to guide them."

A more remarkable analysis and description of the feelings of an intellectual aristocrat was never placed before the world. The fearlessness is no less remarkable than the truth, for M. de Tocqueville knew well that in confessing his political and intellectual fastidiousness he was confessing not merely ft personal weakness, but the weakness of his class, and indeed of the best among his countrymen. Englishmen are often bewildered at the fierce and almost instinctive loathing expressed by Frenchmen of various kinds and creeds for Parliamentarianism. Here is the explanation writ large. They cannot endure to see the great issues worked out and the great problems handled by a set of petty, shuffling mediocrities. No doubt it often does tend to tarn the stomach, but, heaven be thanked, the governing class in England have very strong stomachs, and are enabled to endure without revolt any amount of dullness, fatuity, and folly,—nay, more, are able to build out of them that great and splendid fabric of empire and freedom (imperium et libertas) which the world knows as the English Govern. went.

We have no space to do more than add that those who want an eye-witness's account of the street fighting in Paris in 1848 cannot do better than turn to M. de Tocqueville's Recollections.